The place of the American garden, at least inasmuch as it has become a societal movement from time to time in our history, was outlined beautifully by GRIT editor Hank Will in his blog post on how gardening is good for the soul. The point as I saw it, of the article, was that there is just something about being able to get our hands into the soil and to coax from it a thing as tangible and basic to life as healthy, nutritious food for very little cost, that is good for our soul. I couldn’t agree more! As he outlined our recent history of war gardens, victory gardens and urban collective gardens I found myself thinking that this has been a phenomenon that has largely come about since the time of the industrial revolution when we, as a nation, began to separate ourselves from our agrarian roots. It was natural then, when wars or depression or economic necessity dictated it, that we would gravitate toward something that could bring us together and provide us comfort. Being able to feed ourselves and being able to bless others with food can do this like few other things.
Hank made the statement, in his previous post, that he didn’t “know what to call the new wave of gardening frenzy, but [does] know that it is exciting, and will, no doubt, play a role in healing our culture.” To this I replied “Freedom Gardens” and it has sparked a great conversation I think. He’s asked that I give a little background on how this name for a movement came about so I’ll do my best.
Let me give you a little background. In my first post here at GRIT, I talked about how I had had an awakening within myself. When I realized that, while I was depressed about not being able to drop everything and move to the country and have myself a farm, I was squandering the land that I already had right in my backyard. That epiphany changed the whole way I looked at gardening. My mind had been limited to growing a garden as merely a hobby, while the “real” farming required having acres of land and tractors and so on. The ability to look at my own small .25 acre suburban lot as an urban farm of sorts came about quite by accident when I stumbled onto the website of the Dervaes family in Pasadena CA called Path to Freedom. There I found the story of a family that not only gardened on their tenth of an acre lot in the heart of Pasadena (hardly the country) but was actively supporting themselves through their efforts both physically, in that they largely ate from their garden, and financially in that they had a thriving niche market selling their excess to local markets and chefs. That’s right, excess food from a 10th of an acre lot. It’s not unimaginable when you consider that they regularly average over 6000 lbs of food from that same 10th of an acre.
As we faced issues at the beginning of 2008 of global climate change, increasing costs of oil (which by the way is the basis of all of our commercial “inputs” like fertilizers, pesticides, etc.), regular warnings about tainted foods in our stores and economic pressures that were starting to limit our food buying power the Dervaes family launched a site called “Freedom Gardens” and with it put a name to a movement that was already beginning to form not only here at home, but world wide. Whether you’re a young family trying to make ends meet or a rural farmer that want’s to not just grow commercial crops but actual food as well or a suburban parent worried about the future of the earth for your kids this is a movement for you. If you’re a city dweller who wants to eat organic foods but can’t afford the exorbitant costs at the whole foods stores or someone worried about providing consistent, healthy food to your family in the event of a crisis then this is a movement for you.
The point, I think, is this; gardens ARE good for our souls. Not merely because they’re therapeutic or because they provide healthy foods or even because they give us a hedge against lean times but rather because, if you look at the big picture, they offer us that thing that we all crave so dearly. They offer that thing that drove our founding fathers to strike out on their own. They offer Freedom.
If I sound a bit zealous, well, that’s because I am. I was able to have my eyes opened for me to a world of possibilities a few years back, and returning the favor has been a large part of the reason I write. I hope you find success in your own freedom gardens no matter the size or scope and would love to hear about your efforts. In the event you decide to check further into the Freedom Gardens online community (which is totally free btw.) please drop by and say hi to me. You can find me there as “CornerGardener” and I’d love to help you find your way around.